Can’t Miss Bible Stories: Jonathan and His Armor Bearer

Yesterday was the first Weekly Manna gathering of the new semester. Chato Hazelbaker, who is the organizing force behind the gatherings, offered yesterday’s reflection. Chato opened by suggesting that there are certain Biblical stories he thinks are “can’t miss” stories, i.e., ones everyone should know. (Thought experiment: what would be on your list of can’t miss stories of the Bible?)

He then told the tale of one of the stories that is on his list – that of Jonathan and his armor bearer told in 1 Samuel 14. (I sat up expectantly when he identified the story, since, as I sheepishly admitted to Chato afterwards, this is not a story I was familiar with.)

Chapter 14 of 1 Samuel opens with the enemy Philistines encamped not far from where Saul and his army, which included his son Jonathan, were staying. Saul and his officers were at their command post – sitting under the pomegranate tree, which Chato described as kind of like being at Club Med – shade, fresh fruit, they had it made. Jonathan (described by Chato as a bored kid) says to his armor bearer, let’s go over to the outpost of the Philistines. Maybe the Lord will help us defeat them.

This was a pretty crazy idea – the path to the Philistines was a treacherous one and the Philistines were a formidable army. Does the armor bearer tell Jonathan he is nuts? No. Instead, he says do what you are inclined to do and I will put my heart and soul behind you.

Jonathan’s idea is to get close enough for the Philistines to see them and wait and see what they say. If the Philistines bid them to come forth, “we shall go up, because the Lord has delivered them into our grasp.” If they don’t, they won’t go.

Seeing Jonathan and his armor bearer, the Philistines say, c’mon up and we’ll teach you a lesson. Jonathan and his armor bearer climb up to where the Philistines are and “as the Philistines turned to flee him, he cut them down, and his armor-bearer finished them off. In this first exploit Jonathan and his armor-bearer slew about twenty men within half a furlong.”

Chato drew three lesson from this story. First, be where you are supposed to be. The point, he suggested, of telling us where Saul and his officers were sitting was to indicate that they were not where they were supposed to be. (I loved his other example of a passage indicating someone not where they are supposed to be: in 2 Samuel 11, the scene in which David wrongfully has relations with Bathshebe, opens by saying, “At the turn of the year, when kings go out on campaigns…” Had David been where he was supposed to be…) Saul was not where he was supposed to be; Jonathan was. (And Chato elaborated on this in terms of the students and their law school experience.)

The second lesson is: get yourself an armor bearer and be intentional about being an armor bearer for others. The job of an armor bearer is imporant. Protection. Support. Helping bear the load – the load that has to be carried. We all need armor bearers and we need to be armor bearers to others.

Last, and by no means least, remember that God does the work. The Philistines were not defeated by Jonathan and his armor bearer, but by God. “The Lord delivered them into our grasp.” Sometimes we think we need to do it all on our own. We never do. We do best when we open ourselves to let God work through us.

Good story. Now I have to go think of what is in my list of can’t miss Bible stories.